Casting a Light

Casting a Light

by Bina Newman

Bina Newman

The shadow looms.

It’s always behind you, stalking you, obsessed. Intangible, yet casting a somber hue.

Others may not see it; they miss the clandestine dance of light and shade, only visible to you. Those who don’t see its malevolent specter can’t comprehend the sense of unease. Every time you turn the corner, you fear this ceaseless shadow will be hidden there, ready to attack you for existing.

Jews have always known the shadow, especially in the past year. I for one, a senior about to embark on life in the real world outside the cocoon of high school, have sensed its presence sharply. I have seen it on my tours of prospective college campuses. On sunlit quads and hallowed university halls, I saw hatred stapled to student union kiosks and torn-up hostage fliers. I saw pamphlets for the so-called BDS movement, a gateway to hate. I discovered the extent to which Jewish college students experience antisemitism, untold by the headlines about congressional hearings and the 1st Amendment. I engaged in conversations with Jewish university students and learned how they are forced to navigate their educational journey, distracted and stressed. They said, “I feel safe,” but I could see it in their eyes: the shadow follows.

Since Oct. 7, the shadow has been cast in the most mundane places. I heard intense chants while shopping at Easton – people telling my dad and me that we were murderers – as we stood as the only two Israel advocates in a crowd of Pro-Palestinians. When I marched in Washington, D.C., with 300,000 others at a pro-Israel rally, many screamed at us, calling us colonizers.

Even while staying at the Los Angeles Airport Hilton attending the International StandWithUs Israel advocacy conference, protesters attempted to shout us down. In each of these moments, I felt knocked off kilter.

“You! You! You can’t hide. You’re committing genocide!” I understood how those college students felt. As I wandered into the stairway of the hotel, the harassing voices rang in my ears. Exiting the staircase, I didn’t know whether turning right or left would get me back to my room, just like I didn’t know which way to turn to combat the hate. The shadow enveloped me. I was worried – the security at the event was tight, and the hotel’s support was unwavering – rather, I was discouraged. They persisted, shouting: “From the river to the sea, Palestine will be free.” How could they be claiming that we were committing genocide while at the same time calling for the genocide of my people? I had experienced the opposition’s ignorance and hostility before, yet it was at this point that it struck me anew. Why does their ignorance find such universal acceptance? Why does this pervasive veil take over so many minds?

I found a refuge in knowledge. After all, I was at a conference filled with scholars, providing me with a deeper understanding of more than just their discourteous chants. Amidst the allegations that I was a settler, or that Israel was committing genocide, I fortified my position. I knew who I was, and what I stood for.

It was disheartening that now I was experiencing antisemitism firsthand. The accounts of prejudice I once read in historical novels were here, in my lifetime, in my hometown, in my sphere of experience. The “We Stand With Israel” signs I had designed, produced and distributed to demonstrate that our community was committed to supporting our people in Israel were now being stolen off residential lawns. Prominent members of the Jewish community were being verbally harassed on their doorbell cameras with antisemitic banter.

It was then I realized the shadow of antisemitism has had a resurgence in my generation, but it is up to me to determine whether it consumes me entirely or whether I will find a way to shine a light. Armed with knowledge, I realized I would dismantle their falsehood and fallacies. My convictions grew – a newfound faith. I wasn’t alone; an entire network gave me strength. Together, we formed an unyielding force – an army of truth.

With a community fueled with love and armed with education, we forged a collective strength. I know that in the future when I encounter shadows of antisemitism or any form of bigotry, I am resolved to create a haven – a community where people can turn for support – a place with pillars of love, understanding, and compassion that can act as a powerful counterforce to isolation and despair.

The shadow is defeatable.

I have always been a proud Jew, never afraid to hide who I was, but it wasn’t until Oct. 7, that I discovered the path through the darkness was inextricably connected to my identity as a Jew.

In an era where antisemitism is on the rise, a strong sense of identity can be a shield.

Entering college with a firm grasp of my Jewish heritage is on account of my resilience and commitment to my education and community. My identity is not solely personal but also a means to educate and uplift others. By engaging in campus life through Hillel dinners, Torah teachings, and organizing events that celebrate Jewish culture, I can actively combat ignorance and discrimination. These actions do more than just counteract the shadow; they foster a sense of pride and solidarity among Jewish students and create bridges of understanding across the campus community and culture.

The shadow looms. It is constantly haunting. Its gloomy existence is still there.

But you can grab that shadow and smother it with light’s radiance. It won’t be easy; there will be challenges, but the shadow cannot prevail. You fight back. The shadow’s strength relies on its ability of darkness and desperation, but it cannot fight the light of truth, nor can it stand against our unbending faith and pride in our Jewish identity.

Bina Newman will graduate from Columbus Torah Academy on June 4. She plans to take a gap year. Her essay won first place for the David and Irene Cole Essay Contest from the Columbus, OH JCC. This essay originally appeared in the Columbus Jewish News. It is re-posted here with the permission of the author.

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